Monday, August 29, 2011

Same Old N

School started today. My first-born BABY started high school. I cannot say any more about that, or I will begin sobbing, and it's just unseemly to sob over your laptop keyboard when everyone's already asleep in the house. So yeah. High school, for the love of Pete. She's taking French, and modern dance, and a medical biology course that's somehow different from regular ninth grade biology, and is taught by a woman who works as a microbiologist on the weekend. She's taking algebra, and an English course in which she'll be reading Shakespeare, and a drama elective in which her TA is a guy who played Voldemort in a version of "A Very Potter Musical," which Em and her friends saw earlier this summer.

My baby's drama teacher is Voldemort. Can you tell we live in LA?

N started fifth grade today, which makes me much less likely to burst into tears. Especially since he got the same teacher he had in second grade, the teacher we all loved so very, very much. His assessment of the first day of school was that it was "perfect." Can't ask for more than that.

The story I want to tell about him, though, is really more about his friend A, a girl he's been more and more attached to as the years have gone by. She's the friendliest kid, sweet as pie. N had been worrying about her as school approached, because of a family situation he doesn't really understand enough to talk with me about, but which led him to believe she might not be returning to school this year. So, after we'd determined which class he was in (don't ask about the not-telling-until-the-morning-school-starts thing), and who his teacher was, the first thing we did was scan the class list (there's only one full fifth-grade class in our teensy little school of just over 400 kids) for this girl, and there she was. We all heaved a sigh of relief.

Which meant nothing when we arrived in front of the classroom and actually SAW her, of course. She was chatting with some of the other girls in their grade, but eventually saw us, and made her way over. N's response to her cheery, smiley, enthusiastic hello? He crossed his arms over his chest and turned his back to her.

I started to cringe, to apologize to this tiny 10-year-old. But before I could get even a whisper of a he's-just-nervous-because-of-the-first-day-of-school-but-he's-really-excited-to-see-you explanation out, she turned to Baroy and me, her smile not faltering one second. "Same old N!" she said, her grin possibly even widening some. And then she waited for him to collect himself, to peek around and smile back at her, if only for a second.

Would it be overly dramatic of me to say that I had a tiny little epiphany in that moment? It might be; but I did. And it was this: It's not all going to be about N learning to fit in with the other kids. It's also going to be about the other kids--not all of them probably, but some, enough--learning to appreciate N for who he is, quirks and all.

It was one of the first times ever that I saw in action what I often hear my special-needs-parenting peers talk about--advocating not for cures or the forcing of square pegs into round holes, but advocating for acceptance of our kids as they are. Making sure people see them as they are, as WHO they are, and, least some of those people to smile and say, "Same old N," as if that were a good thing.

None of which is to say that I don't believe N needs to learn how to greet a person he hasn't seen in a long time, to figure out how to handle that rush of emotion--even positive emotion--and not need to shy away or shut down. I'm not implying that at all. But if he never quite gets all the way there? My hope for him is many, many more As in his life; people who will see that trait as something uniquely N, understand where it comes from, and simply accept it. Accept him. And perhaps, even, smile affectionately as they do it.

Friday, August 26, 2011


There were several times today, on my first baby's 14th birthday, that I almost burst open with the pride of being her mother. She knows how to be a friend...and when she falters, she's quick to listen to advice. She's almost freakishly mature for her age. She's almost freakishly mature for MY age.

The stories that really define my girl these days are generally not stories I can tell. Not for me to tell the stories about helping one friend, or soothing another's ruffled feathers, or chiding a third when she seems to be going astray.

So instead, let me tell you about this one day, the day after the day on which Baroy and I helped register her for high school, watched as she picked up her schedule and her ID and her books, and took much longer to get over the fact that she didn't make the soccer team than she did.

Today, Em's 14th birthday, started with her brother jumping atop her on her bed to give her his present...and then continued with him hiding under her covers while I sang Happy Birthday, a song that unaccountably freaks him out, and always has.

It continued, then, with a mother-daughter lunch at Tony Roma's, our special place. After lunch, we wandered around for a short while, then decided the heat was just more than we could bear, so headed home to await her girlfriends, who were finishing up their various color guard/cheerleading practices.

The original plan was for me to take the five girls to a local botanical gardens, where they were planning to a kind of photo shoot. (Em has a camera that's more expensive than the last three I've used put together...but she saved up for and bought it herself, and she uses it, so I have no complaints.) Mr. Sun had other plans, however--plans that included temperatures of over 100 at 5:30 this evening. So, instead, they asked to be chauffeured to the mall. Em wasn't too upset about it; she's been wanting to go to the gardens, sure, but she also had a Forever 21 gift card burning a hole in her pocket, so it was a perfect alternative.

Driving five 14-year-old girls around is something else. And that's all I'll say about that. At least until the ringing in my ears subsides.

Baroy picked them up a few hours later, dropped off the other girls, and returned Em home for her requested family dinner of chicken fricassee. Almost as soon as we finished chewing, the neighborhood kids began to arrive for the annual destroying of my backyard, also known as celebrating Em's birthday in their own traditional, if idiosyncratic, manner. (It involves me having both a cake for them to eat, and a cake for them to smash into Em's face...and then letting it all devolve into a complete free-for-all involving more cake, silly string, and the backyard hose. It's a mess, but it's worth it to watch them scream and giggle and enjoy the hell out of themselves once a year. Of course, I can say that, because it was Baroy who cleaned up after them.)

And now, Em and two of those friends are in a tent in the water-soaked backyard, having a sleepover. Except not so much on the sleep, at least not yet. But, you know, the night's still...well, not so much young as middle-aged.

Lest you think the festivities are coming to an end, there's a trip to the water park tomorrow, to celebrate a few other friends' August birthdays as a group.

Because, really. No matter how mature you may be, you're never too old for a smash cake and some water slides.

Happy birthday, Em. You make my heart sing. I love you.